On the grounds of the Atlanta University Center (AUC), President Joseph R. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris delivered speeches advocating for voter’s rights on Tuesday, January 11. With a coalition of civil rights organizations present to support voting acts, hundreds came together to listen to what could be done about voter suppression across the state of Georgia.
Before rallying at Clark Atlanta University, Biden and Harris, accompanied by former Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Senator Raphael Warnock landed earlier that afternoon at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, where they were greeted by newly elected Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens.
Shortly after landing, the president and vice president attended a wreath laying at the King Center ahead of Martin Luther King’s birthday before advocating for safe and fair elections at the AUC.
They were welcomed by Morehouse College President David A. Thomas, Clark Atlanta University President George T. French and Spelman College Student Government Association President Jillian Jackson.
French Jr., thanked Biden and Harris for their efforts to end the filibuster and protect the right to vote.
“[Voting rights] is not a black nor white issue,” French said. “This is about democracy.”
In his speech, Biden took an aggressive stance for filibuster reform in the Senate.
“Senate rules were just changed to raise the debt ceiling so we wouldn’t renege on our debt for the first time in our history to prevent an economic crisis,” President Biden said. “That was done by a simple majority. As Senator Raphael Warnock said a few weeks ago in a powerful speech, if you change the rules to protect the full faith and credit of the United States, we should be able to change the rules to protect the heart and soul of our democracy. He was right.”
Biden described the upcoming Congressional vote on voting rights legislation, such as the Freedom to Vote Act, as a “turning point” in American history.
“The issue is: Will we choose democracy over autocracy?” Biden asked. “Light over shadows, justice over injustice. I know where I stand.”
Vice President Harris advised Americans to remain vigilant for any legislation in their communities that have the ability to infringe upon their right to vote.
“Over the past few years, we have seen so many anti-voter laws that there is a danger of becoming accustomed to these laws, a danger of adjusting to these laws as though they are normal- a danger of being complacent, complicit,” Harris said. “Anti-voter laws are not new in our nation. But we must not be deceived into thinking they are normal.”
“There is nothing normal about a law that makes it illegal to pass out water or food to people standing in long voting lines,” Harris continued. “I have met with voters in Georgia, I have heard your outrage about the anti-voter law here, and how many voters will likely be kept from voting. And Georgia is not alone. Across our nation, anti-voter laws could make it more difficult for as many as 55 million Americans to vote. That is 1 out of 6 people in our country.”
Georgia’s new bill creates restrictions that can make it harder for citizens to vote in future elections. Voters will have less time to request absentee ballots and it is more difficult to extend voting hours, among other changes.
Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Jaime Harrison supported the speeches given by Biden and Harris and described them as what America “needed at this point”.
“Georgia is at the heart of the battlegrounds,” Harrison said. “This is a state that now, before 2020, [was under] complete Republican control… And now you have two Democratic United States senators, [and] you have a state that went for Joe Biden for the presidency.”
The DNC works with state parties to help democratic candidates in elections. Georgia can expect a bounty of resources from the DNC in the upcoming elections.
“Georgia will be one of our largest recipient states in terms of the resources that will put boots on the ground and to continue to system voter protection [and] other efforts,” Harrison said. “So, I think resources are not going to be an issue for the Georgia Democratic Party in this cycle.”
Organizations such as Black Voters Matter, the New Georgia Project Action Fund and other activist groups are against Biden and Harris’ visit. Many believe their actions are all talk.
In a Twitter post, Black Voters Matter stated, “Today, @POTUS and @VP will travel to Atlanta, Georgia to speak on voting rights, but unless they will be delivering a finalized voting rights plan that will pass both chambers, not be stopped by the filibuster, and be signed into law, they can keep their words. We want action!”
Atlanta National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Chapter President, Richard Rose, was more supportive of Biden and believes voting rights will be a task for everyone to overcome.
“The original 15th amendment was passed because of voter suppression,” Rose said. “And so we took about 155 years and some for wishing we got to get over this. And we don’t really have don’t seem to have not been able to get over this.”
Why focus on the filibuster?
Last summer, the Senate blocked the For the People Act. According to Congress, this H.R. 1 bill addresses “voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance, and ethics for the three branches of government.” In September, a revised version was submitted to the Senate that was also denied. In 2020, The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which has the purpose of strengthening the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
To vote during a filibuster within the Senate, legislation needs a super-majority, or 60 out of 100 votes from senators to pass. This is an issue for Biden and Harris because there are only 51 Democrats willing to vote, which leaves the minimum of 10 Republican votes needed to stand with the passing of a bill.